Posted by: ithacaisdoomed | April 28, 2010

It’s the End of the World as We Know it, but Don’t Make me Put Down this Book!

It’s Spring, glorious Spring here in sunny Ithaca and that means only one thing around my place: Gardening until you feel like you’re going to vomit. Big time projects are under way, as well as the minutiae of ordinary food production. I just started my first mushroom logs and I think this will be the year I finally get some chickens. With all this busyness, precious little time is left for reading, one of my other favorite activities. This is probably the main thing I like about winter and the one reason I look forward to the death of most of the garden come December. 

Even though I was an English/French major in college, I feel a duty to maintain a pragmatic approach in my choice of reading material. This means I’m usually reading about preparation, survival, gardening, or homeschooling. Fiction is a dubious luxury, one only reserved for those dark December nights, curled up next to the wood stove drinking some Lemon Balm tea. What kind of fiction does any self-respecting Doomer curl up with? Why End of the World novels, EOTW lit. for short. The great thing about most EOTW Lit. is that such novels can impart practical life lessons while spinning a good tale. So when you turn the last page, you don’t feel like you’ve wasted your time. 

Here are the EOTW novels I read last Winter, along with a brief review and the practical Doomer lesson I derived from having read the book(s): 

Dies the Fire, S. M. Stirling.  What would the world look like if only the geekiest, dorkiest elements of society survived?  Find out in Stirling’s  trilogy which starts out with a fast crash scenario and turns into a swords and sorcery fantasy epic later on.  In contemporary Portland, Oregon, a mysterious event called “the Change” renders all electronics, internal combustion engines, and gunpowder inoperative.  The survivors comprise Wiccan folk singers, members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, and J.R.R. Tolkien freaks.  As the crash stabilizes, each group forms a quasi-medeival society in the New Dark Age, replete with lots of action-packed battle scenes involving swords made from old car parts.  Be forewarned:  Dies the Fire is but the beginning of a very long trilogy that will suck you in for many a sleepless night.  There is a second trilogy comprising the adventures of the next generation of survivors following “the Change.”  I read the first book, but lost interest enough to finish the whole thing. 



Practical stuff: Aside from getting me to think about what would happen to all the zoo animals in a fast crash scenario (escaped tigers manage to survive and breed in the altered Willamette Valley,) Stirling illuminates through vivid descriptions, the hard work and enormous amount of human power that would be required in the absence of fossil fueled energy. One lengthy description of harvesting wheat by hand was particularly well-researched and so real I could hear the scythes cutting through the stalks of grain. Each society portrayed in the novel develops a different way to confront this basic dilemma: slavery, communal effort, division of labor are but a few solutions; but there is no denying that feeding, defending, clothing, and housing a large group all by hand will be a total bitch in the absence of fossil fuels. 

Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler. In a genre traditionally dominated by white males, Octavia Butler is unique in that she is both an African American female and writes from that perspective. The Parable of the Sower is the story of a young black woman’s coming of age against the backdrop of a collapsed Southern California in which climate change wreaks havoc on the weather and users of a mysterious drug called Pyro wreak havoc on everything else. The protagonist is an Empath. Her mother abused a drug resulting in a strange birth defect that causes her to feel the emotions and physical sensations of others. She feels the beating when her brother gets punished. She experiences an orgasm when a couple near her makes love. Needless to say, it is very difficult for her to kill other people or animals. She also creates her own religion, writing a treatise called “Earthseed,” whose central tenet is the idea that “God is Change.” In a powerful way, the novel illustrates how one charismatic individual can use her beliefs to rally others to survive even the grimmest situations. 

Practical stuff: I realize this will sound kind of trite, considering that The Parable of the Sower is actually a respectable work of literature, but the main life lesson the novel got me pondering  was the threat posed by feral dogs.Wild dogs are an ever -present danger in the book, organizing into highly intelligent packs capable of taking down the hapless or not so well-armed. There’s one particularly gruesome scene in which a feral dog runs by with a child’s arm in its mouth.  Around here, we’re chock a block with pitbulls.  Eighty percent of the dogs at the local SPCA on any given day will invariably be pitbulls.  Pitbull ownership is not limited by socioeconomic status or group identification around these parts.  If the shit goes down and it’s TEOTWAWKI, one can only hope that people will either eat their dogs first or the harsh winters will kill them off.  Not being much of a dog lover, in any event, I intend to be well armed against the threat. 

Pitbulls are terrorists in our midst!

One Second After, William Forstchen  Set in the small mountain town of Black Mountain, North Carolina, this novel portrays the immediate aftermath and first year following a full on Electromagnetic Pulse attack against the United States.  The EMP blast wipes out all electronics, unless they have been “shielded’ beforehand, something that, according to the foreword to the novel by Newt Gingrich, has only been done in very limited cases.  For the denizens of Black Mountain, this means immediate chaos.  Commuters are stranded in the town when the computers in their cars suddenly cease to function, adding to the confusion.  The citizens of Black Mountain band together, organizing a functional government and a well-armed militia.  Needless to say, things still get pretty ugly before all is said and done.  Forstchen is obviously on the moderate right of the political spectrum and sometimes his characters function as mouthpieces for his political views:  there’s a great deal of “America worship” and appeals to the Founding Fathers and all that blah blah.  The writing is a bit clunky at times too, like how I imagine a Tom Clancy novel might be, with a bit of foreshadowing at the beginning that hits you over the head like a brick.  Still the book is very well-researched and it engaged me emotionally, to the point where I was about to cry in one touching scene.  Of the three books I read, I would recommend this one above all if your time was limited. 

Practical stuff:  The novel presents a well-researched and vivid account of what life might be like following an EMP attack.  It’s scary and makes you want to pressure your political representatives to be prepared for such an event.  As such, the most compelling thing in the novel is the plausible account of exactly what die off could be like under a fast crash scenario.  People die in the immediate aftermath from heart attacks and strokes brought on by shock and physical exertion.  Nursing homes become morgues in the absence of power.  Then there is the slower death brought on by starvation and lack of sanitation.  Diseases, such as diabetes and asthma, that would have been a death sentence prior to the fossil fuel age, become  just that.  One of the things I’d never thought about is the psychological effects of drug withdrawl for all of the people taking anti-pyschotics and anti-depressants.  Once again, not pretty.  The novel definitely makes you want to brush up on your medical survival skills and get your ducks in a row regarding medical preparations.  Being of the conservative political persuasion, Forstchen omits one factor that would have done his characters a world of good:  medical marijuana.  The backwoods Hippie could have been a saviour. 

Now that I’ve gotten my English major geek/freak on, it’s time to get out and plant potatoes.  No more EOTW lit. for me until the sequel to James Howard Kunstler’s World Made by Hand comes out this Fall. 



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